Early Career Research Network

  • ECR Update Bulletin:

July 2022

  • NERC-UK, ECR Pump-Priming Initiative Funded Mini-Project (March to October 2023)

NERC-UK funded Early Career Researchers (ECRs) Pump Priming Initiative funds (supplemented with other NERC funds) have assisted in establishing further common research areas between all our five projects. These projects will be governed by our collaboration agreement and data management plan. In total five mini-projects where submitted and all five were awarded funds due to the strength and calibre of their submitted applications.

Project 1: Detection of persistent antimicrobials using a portable fibre optic biosensor.

As part of the AMSPARE project, antibody-based sensors have been developed that can accurately detect and quantify specific antibiotics in water samples. These sensors are cheaper and more time efficient than current methods and unlike current methods, are field-deployable. This project aims to assess the accuracy of the sensor using samples from sites across the UK/India network and compare this to current detection methods. In addition, this project aims to assess the potential of these devices to be repurposed for accurate detection of key organisms that could be useful indicator species when assessing the risk of antimicrobial resistance in an environment.

Project 2: Investigate AMR genes in a cost-effective way.

Natural environments are important reservoirs of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and play a critical role in supporting the evolution and dissemination of ARGs between bacteria through horizontal gene transfer and mutagenesis. Our project aims to measure and cross validate the presence of ARGs in water from 3 of 5 PCT projects using a new approach, the Illumina AMR panel. The results and costs will be compared with the golden standard techniques (HT-qPCR and metagenomics) to inform the PCT community about the value of this technology in future projects.

Project 3: Tracing the Indian antimicrobial production and supply chain.

“The fate of antimicrobials in the environment is causally connected with the overall antibiotic supply chain, from manufacturing and procurement of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), to manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of antimicrobial products. As part of ResPHARM and AMRflows, the main aim of the project is to document the manufacturing and supply chain as fully as possible. Using a ‘bottom up’ as well as a ‘top down’ approach, the project aims to identify sites and processes along this chain from which antimicrobial waste may be generated. Focusing on two or three antibiotics that are locally manufactured and/or packaged, we aim to trace the production and supply chain from sources of production and procurement of APIs, through sites of antimicrobial manufacture and assembly, to distribution routes and onward destinations, including disposal of out-of-date or inferior quality products during and after manufacture. We also aim to document sources and routes of procurement of wholesale and retail antibiotics by local hospitals and local health providers in the residential areas participating in our study and their trajectory to the point of use or disposal, in order to understand local patterns of antibiotic retailing and dispensing from the ‘bottom up’ and identify points of potential risk for environmental release of antimicrobials. ”

Project 4: Enabling Citizen Scientists to Monitor Antimicrobial Resistance in Water Environments.

Our project aims to combat Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in the water bodies of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, using a cost-effective monitoring system involving citizen scientists. We’ll identify AMR hotspots, developing simple methods to monitor water quality parameters related to AMR. Engaging citizens will create valuable data sets and contribute to a cleaner environment. Comprehensive data collection will help us implement targeted measures to arrest AMR spread in the City.

Project 5: PFAS co-selection of AMR in the environment.

Aquatic chemical pollutants, including antibiotic residues and industrial waste effluent in water bodies, are known factors responsible for AMR spread and co-selection. The emerging contaminants PFAS (per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), known as forever chemicals, are ubiquitous in global waters. The UK Environment Agency has detected PFAS at 96% of the sites sampled from surface water and groundwater bodies in the UK. Whereas PFAS can increase the survival of bacteria exposed to antibiotics by disrupting bacterial membranes, potentially leading to AMR selection. Most bacteria can use another survival ability: biofilm formation, which protects the bacteria against antimicrobial selective pressure. However, knowledge about PFAS-driven AMR selection is limited.

This project aims to investigate the PFAS-driven co-selection of AMR in the aquatic environment.

We will focus on PFAS which were previously detected in UK and Indian water samples using high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) by the team at UoL. This project will explore the knowledge gap between the extent of PFAS pollution in rivers and the potential risk of PFAS-driven co-selection of AMR gene(s) in river water microbial communities and biofilm-producing isolates. Whilst river samples used in this study will be from UK only, due to the commonality in PFAS and selected antibiotics detected in riverine environment globally, this study has wider implications.